chapter  7
34 Pages

LETTERS IN GREEK LITERATURE

European literature begins with Homer, and Book vi of the Iliad contains the first Greek fictional letter – or more properly, message in writing – which is the only one to be found in the Homeric poems. In a much-discussed passage, the Trojan warrior Glaucos is explaining his ancestry to the Greek Diomedes, whom he has encountered on the battlefield. In typical epic fashion his account of his ancestry spills over into a story: Glaucos’ grandfather, Bellerophon, had been an unusually handsome man and Anteia, the wife of King Proitos of Argos, had fallen madly in love with him. When Bellerophon rejected her passionate advances, she tried to take her revenge:

So she went to Proitos the king and uttered her falsehood: ‘Would you be killed, O Proitos? Then murder Bellerophontes who tried to lie with me in love, though I was unwilling.’ He shrank from killing him, since his heart was awed by such action, but sent him away to Lycia, and handed him murderous symbols, which he inscribed in a folding tablet, enough to destroy life, and told him to show it to his wife’s father, that he might perish.2